10 guidelines for an awesome poster

A “Streams of Thought” contribution by Andrea Popp.

A scientific poster is a communication tool explaining your work and encouraging conversation with colleagues. However, making a good poster is not easy. The following list provides ten guidelines for an awesome poster to help you to communicate your work more efficiently. You also find insider tips from recent EGU and AGU Outstanding Student Poster Award winners (Skuyler Herzog, Ingo Heidbüchel, and Michael Stölzle) and some great advice from the EGU Hydrology OSPP coordinators Luisa Hopp and Julian Klaus.

1) Layout must be organized and easy to read

  • do not overload your poster with information
  • think big – choose a large font size and make graphs large enough to read
  • use no more than 3 different fonts (generally sans serif fonts)
  • use italics instead of underlining
  • use colours to highlight, but not too many (2-3)
  • choose a light and homogeneous background
  • the progression of your poster should be obvious

2) Use brief and simple language

  • use bullet points, no text blocks
  • graphs say more than words, avoid text when possible
  • be concise

Insight from OSP winner Ingo Heidbüchel:

No text blocks! Some people say that a poster should explain itself if you are not there to walk people through. However, if you are there to explain the content of the poster, people will not read the text blocks but listen to your story. That means text blocks are mostly obsolete for the poster competition. Short bullet points are enough. Use the space for nice clean figures and structure the progression of your research clearly.”

Insight from OSP winner Michael Stölzle:

“The most important aspects of an awesome poster are good visualizations (4-7), enough space and empty space around the story.”

3) Present your (one!) message in a clear and logical way

  • focus on a central message
  • tell a story
  • make your hypothesis clear
  • let the story flow from left to right and from top to bottom

4) Have a unique feature to attract the audience

  • think of an eye catcher
  • be creative
  • bring a laptop/tablet if you would like to show animations

Insight from OSP winner Michael Stölzle:

“Think about a strategy that makes people stop at your poster!”

Insight from OSP winner Ingo Heidbüchel:

When I won, I actually had a laptop with me where I showed a small animated clip of my modeling results. Physical objects (like measuring devices or aquifer/landscape models) are also cool.”

ingo_poster.gif

Poster from Ingo Heidbüchel winning the OSP award at the EGU General Assembly in 2012.


5) Choose a catchy but informative title

  • keep it brief – no more than two lines
  • title should highlight core content
  • use keywords
  • do not use parentheses and acronyms!

6) Start preparing early

  • think of your target audience
  • practice presenting your poster – prepare an elevator pitch and a five minutes speech
  • give a test run for colleagues to get feedback
  • use appropriate software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, PPT, LaTeX)

Insight from OSP winner Skuyler Herzog:

I think of the overall poster presentation primarily as a normal conversation, with the poster as a prop or reference rather than the focal point. Failure to develop the conversation (think elevator pitch) can turn the poster into a crutch instead of an asset.”

7) Get rid of unnecessary details

  • only include the things you need to explain
  • delete anything that is not important

Insight from OSP winner Skuyler Herzog:

I also reflect on the poster afterwards: were there any figures or results that I never pointed to? Cut them out. Did I repeatedly wish I had included a different diagram? Add it in. No presentation is perfect the first time, so be sure to reflect and iterate.”

skuyler_poster.gif

Poster from Skuyler Herzog winning the OSPA award at the AGU Fall Meeting in 2015.

 

8) Check everything before printing

  • proofread and check spelling
  • print A3 test version

9) Presenting at the conference

  • start with general remarks about your work, then gradually get more detailed once your audience demands it
  • ask colleagues to show up at your poster – having some audience leads to more audience
  • if new audience arrives while you are still explaining to others, try to finish your speech first
  • try to open up the circle of people standing around your poster to include as many as possible

Insight from OSP winner Ingo Heidbüchel:

[…] Smiling and eye contact is always recommendable and also leaving room for questions from the audience.”

10) Use your poster to help yourself

  • appreciate constructive feedback
  • make notes of challenging questions from your audience which usually show weak points of your presentation or research
  • lively discussions can help you to get new ideas, build new collaboration and even solve problems (maybe saving you from weeks of unnecessary work)

Insight from OSP winner Skuyler Herzog:

It’s important to frame your presentation around the audience and your own goals. You might highlight different results in a primarily academic vs. industry conference. […] I gave my poster at a time when I was struggling to upscale lab techniques to a field site, so I included a prominent section on my poster specifically seeking help in this area. This was a bit unusual, but I got a lot of great advice for my research.”

michael_stoelzle

Poster from Michael Stölzle winning the OSP award at the EGU General Assembly in 2015.


Citation: Popp, A. (2017), 10 guidelines for an awesome poster, Streams of Thought (Young Hydrologic Society), Published March 2017, Updated November 2017, doi: 10.5281/zenodo.1048258.

About the author: Andrea Popp is a PhD candidate at Eawag and ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Luisa Hopp, Julian Klaus, Skuyler Herzog, Ingo Heidbüchel and Michael Stölzle for sharing their insights. Further thanks go to Mikhail Smilovic, Jendrik Seipp, Wouter Berghuijs and Tim van Emmerik for helpful comments.

References:

Block, S. M. (1996) Do’s and Dont’s of Poster Presentation. Biophysical Journal (71) 3527-3529

Erren TC, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for a good poster presentation. PLoS Comput Biol. 3(5): e102. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102

Faulkes, Z. Better Posters. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://betterposters.blogspot.ch/

Graves, L. Scientific Poster Design. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://hsp.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/ScientificPosters.pdf

Hess, G., Tosney, K. and L. Liegel (2013) Creating Effective Poster Presentations. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from https://projects.ncsu.edu/project/posters/#Note0

Kulkarni, S. (2013) 3 Basic tips on writing a good research paper title. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from ttp://www.editage.com/insights/3-basic-tips-on-writin-a-good-research-paper-title

Kumar, P., Griffin, R., Gupta, H., Illangesekare, T., Sander, G. and J. Selker (2012) How to Prepare a Really Lousy Submission. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://eloquentscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/WRR-submission-piece.pdf

Ogren, M. P. Making a great poster. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://biology.mit.edu/sites/default/files/effective_posters.pdf

Purrington, C.B. Designing conference posters. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://colinpurrington.com/tips/poster-design.

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